“William N. Selig was an important film producer in the early days of the motion picture industry. A Chicago-born magician, he began his film career in 1895 after he saw a Dallas vaudeville hall demonstration of Thomas Edison’s Kinetoscope while he was running a travelling minstrel show. Returning to Chicago, he had a projector devised by dissembling and duplicating the Lumière Cinematographe. Working with a machinist, he patented the Selig Standard Camera and the Selig Polyscope, and incorporated his equipment business, a motion-picture studio and a film processing plant as the Selig Polyscope Company in 1896. Within a few years, Selig’s Chicago-based company became the largest filmmaking plant in the United States. At his studio on the city’s outskirts, he produced westerns, adventure films, and melodramas utilizing both indoor and outdoor filmmaking. Among the people he trained was G. M. (“Broncho Billy”) Anderson, who worked as an actor and director for Selig from 1905 to 1907 and then formed a rival company (Essanay) with Chicago businessman George Spoor.
Selig was among the first movie producers who considered Los Angeles as a versatile moviemaking location. After sending crews there for two years, he opened a permanent Los Angeles studio in 1909. The studio became particularly important for his business when, in 1909, President Theodore Roosevelt would not allow a Selig cameraman to accompany his big game expedition to Africa. So Selig bought an aging lion from a Los Angeles zoo and staged his own tropical jungle hunt with a lead character named ‘Teddy.’ When the newspaper wire services announced that Roosevelt had ‘bagged’ a lion, Selig released his fictional film entitled Hunting Big Game in Africa and scored a smash hit. The film was so successful that Selig bought an entire zoo for his Los Angeles studio and began making jungle adventure films.”
Thor, Lord of the Jungle
R: Francis J. Grandon. B: James Oliver Curwood, Edward McWade. D: Kathlyn Williams, Tom Santschi, Charles Clary, William Holland, Lafe McKee. P: Selig Polyscope Company. USA 1913
“Although Selig had started to make wild animal pictures after Hunting Big Game in Africa, and although he had been filming in Florida in 1910-11, the flurry of jungle- adventure films truly started in 1912, after the opening of Selig’s Wild Animal Farm in Los Angeles; by 1914 he had contracts with many exchanges to release at least one jungle-adventure film per week. Some of these films were set in the USA (…), but many of these films, including the serial The Adventures of Kathlyn, were set in or around European colonies in Africa or Asia, even as they featured American characters. By plotting relationships with European colonies the jungle-adventure films imagined a particularly American cinematic empire. (…) In Thor, Lord of the Jungle (Colin Campbell [sic!], US 1913), Henry (Charles Clary), a good-for-nothing circus owner with an antagonistic relationship to animals, hunts and captures animals in Africa. (…) We are supposed to understand that animals in film are more thrilling than animals at the circus, and that unlike other entertainments, wild animal films claim the moral high ground, a strategy no doubt related to the cinema’s attempt to legitimize itself at the time.”
Michael Lawrence, Karen Lury: The Zoo and Screen Media: Images of Exhibition and Encounter. Springer 2016, p. 100-101
Alone in the Jungle
R: Colin Campbell. B: Otto Breitkreutz. D: Tom Santschi, Bessie Eyton, Frank Clark, Lillian Hayward, Wheeler Oakman, Eddie James. P: Selig Polyscope Company (William Nicholas Selig). USA 1913
“The Brown family, which consists of Hon. John Brown, his wife, two sons, Harold and Billy, and a young sister named Helen, has settled on an isolated plantation in the Jungles. Jack Arden, son of another English planter, who comes over frequently to hunt with the boys has fallen in love with Helen. But Papa Brown discourages the lovers, saying that Helen is too young to be married. Jack agrees to wait. Some time afterward the Browns receive a letter from Jack stating that he is coming for another week-end of shooting- with the Brown boys. On his way to the Brown’s home, Jack knocks down Concho, an overseer, for being cruel to one of the slaves. His action is approved of by the Browns. In honor of Jack the family starts on a lion hunt, and, after a long trip, they return by the river route. They espy a lioness drinking at the river’s edge. She is killed by Jack and taken aboard. That night Jack again asks Mr. Brown for Helen’s hand and is again told to wait. The next day when Jack is going away, Helen, unknown to anyone else, accompanies him a little way into the jungle. (…)”
Moving Picture World synopsis
“Interestingly, an old patriarchal imperialism based on hunting gets represented but also critiqued. Alone in the Jungle (Colin Campbell, US 1913) includes a lion hunt at the end of the first reel, in which ‘the lion shooting is actually accomplished in full view of the camera, and is real in every respect, the actors being face to face with the blood-thirsty beasts in a real jungle’; at the end of the second reel, the heroine (played by Bessie Eyton) is rescued from underneath a lion just in time. But in Thor, Lord of the Jungle, released a few months later, our sympathies are on the side of the lion and its female admirer. (…) But the hunter, while often present, is rarely in the center of the plot, at least not as a hunter. Likewise, older male patriarchs are rarely the heros. In Alone in the Jungle, the father’s objection to his daughter’s early matrimony postpones the romantic plot and endangers the daughter. (…) The incorporation of old patriarchs and hunters, along with the simultaneous focus on youthful romances was certainly connected to the film’s desire for an inclusive audience.
While a proto-imperialist social order focused on the male patriarch rarely gets endorsed, many of the films indulge in a plantation fantasy in which a white nuclear family is surrounded by racially coded laborers or other support staff. Alone in the Jungle is set on a plantation in South Africa. (…) Even films that are not set on plantations (…) provide opportunities for racial regimes reminiscent of plantation culture. (…) Thor, Lord of the Jungle features African American extras who pull carts oxen and horses. (…) The plantation ideal of the youngish white nuclear family supported by friendly brown bodies crucially supplemented by animals is at the basis of many of these films.”
Michael Lawrence, Karen Lury: The Zoo and Screen Media: Images of Exhibition and Encounter. Springer 2016, p. 101-103